Saints finally get a chance to catch their breath

Saints quarterback Drew Brees sits in the bench area against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman) Show caption
Saints quarterback Drew Brees sits in the bench area against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

On Saturday, the New Orleans Saints finally rested.

After playing three games in 12 days and getting back to their home base in the wee hours Friday morning after Thursday night’s 17-13 victory at Atlanta, the Saints had an abbreviated work day with a running and weightlifting session.

Then, they finally got their reward for defeating the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Falcons in that busy stretch: extended time away from the training facility for some rest and relaxation.

Coach Sean Payton gave his team the weekend and two additional days off before they begin preparing for their next game, a Dec. 2 showdown with the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

The time off will give the Saints (9-2) a chance to reflect on where they are — 11/2 games ahead of the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South race — and where they want to go in the final five games of the season.

That, of course, would be the top seed for playoffs. The Seahawks (10-1) are also resting this weekend on a bye; they hold a one-game edge on the Saints in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The Saints are in position to give the Seahawks a run for the top spot after rebounding from a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 2 and reeling off the three victories in short order. Several players credited the approach Payton took, giving them as much rest as he possibly could between games — especially after last Sunday’s 23-20 late-afternoon win against the 49ers.

“With a quick turnaround Thursday, it’s really about the proper rest,” Payton said Friday. “You can argue that the turnaround is too quick, but every team has to do it.

“We really tried to get them in the sweats and in walk-throughs to allow their bodies time to recover. I don’t get as worried as we get closer to a game with physical activity, but I’m always worried after a game (to make sure) there is enough distance and recovery. I thought they handled it well.”

The players certainly appreciated it. After all, winning three games in three weeks isn’t easy — and they had to do it in 12 days while putting a physical game with the 49ers behind them in a hurry.

“Yeah, it was tough,” free safety Malcolm Jenkins said of the three-game stretch. “As a player, the main thing is to try and stay healthy and recover from these games.

“There was a lot of emphasis on rest, and Sean backed up meetings an hour to get us a little more sleep. We focused more on meeting time than on the field. It’s just kind of one of those things you have to deal with, but I thought we handled it well.”

Running back Pierre Thomas, who had 10 carries for 73 yards and caught five passes for 57 yards, said Payton’s decision to back off on his players showed his trust in them.

“Definitely. … He wanted us to get better,” he said. “He wanted us to make sure our bodies were taken care of. He knows we played a tough, physical game (against the 49ers) and guys were going to be bruised up.”

The stretch was reminiscent of the 1992 season, when the Saints played three games in 11 days — a Monday-Sunday-Thursday sequence. They swept all three en route to a 12-4 record.

The best part about this tough stretch, Jenkins pointed out, is that the Saints now have time to rest and get a head start on their preparation for the Seahawks.

“We have a little head-start as far as film study,” he said. “(The Seahawks) have a bye week as well so they have the same, if not a little bit more time than we do to break things down and get ready.

“But we have a little extra rest. A few days (off) with the weekend now, we’ll be rested up, rejuvenated and really ready for a tough road game.”